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When it comes to making a comedy that `works' (read: Generates some real
LAUGHS), if you start with a polished script, plug in the right actors and
find a director with some insights into human nature, a good sense of timing
and enough experience to know just when to push which buttons, you can win
the gold. Well, in 1979, a trio of producers-- which along with William
Sackheim included the director, Arthur Hiller, and one of the lead actors,
Alan Arkin-- started with a polished screenplay (by veteran screenwriter
Andrew Bergman), plugged in the right actors (Alan Arkin and Peter Falk) and
found a director (Hiller) with plenty of insights into the human condition,
an impeccable sense of timing and a resume that included experience working
with the likes of Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Bette Midler, Steve Martin,
Dudley Moore, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, and-- you guessed it-- they
struck gold, big time, with `The In-Laws,' an hilarious comedy that examines
what happens when an ordinary guy is placed in an extraordinary situation.
And it all begins simply enough with the impending marriage of his daughter,
and the day he meets the people who, for better or worse, are about to
become her in-laws, as well as a part of his own extended family. With the
emphasis definitely NOT on the `better.'
Sheldon Kornpett (Arkin) is a dentist with a successful practice in New York, a loving wife, Carol (Nancy Dussault) and a daughter, Barbara (Penny Peyser), who is engaged to Tommy Ricardo (Michael Lembeck). The wedding is less than a week away, and the Kornpett's have yet to meet the Ricardos, due to the fact that Tommy's father, Vince (Falk), purportedly the owner of something called Trans Global Enterprises, is rarely around or home long enough for the soon-to-be-related families to have that all-important get-together. Finally, however, it's all arranged, and the Kornpett's anxiously await the arrival of Vince and his wife, Jean (Arlene Golonka) to their home for dinner. And though Sheldon doesn't know it yet, it's a night that is going to change his life forever; and by the day of the wedding, he will have done things and been to places he wouldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams, all courtesy of his newest and best friend, Vince Ricardo.
The film opens with a glimpse into what appears to be the covert existence of Vince Ricardo, for whom Trans Global is obviously a front of some kind. So the viewer already has a leg up on Sheldon, who at this point has no reason to take Vince at anything other than face value. Until they meet and spend an evening together, during which time Vince relates a most bizarre story and has his penchant for taking concealed phone calls in such places as the basement revealed, which raises more than a few questions in Sheldon's mind. It's a scene worth it's weight in gold, which Hiller uses to establish the nature of Sheldon and Vince's personalities, as well as the relationship between the two strangers who in a few days will be family. And in that one hilarious scene, you realize instantly that you're dealing with a cinematic incarnation of an odd couple that's going to rival Neil Simon's Felix and Oscar.
Bergman's dialogue is incisively witty, and Hiller emphasizes the contrast between the two men to great effect, parlaying it all into some of the most memorable scenes you'll ever see in a comedy. The one, for example, that takes place on a remote airstrip (suffice to say that Sheldon has been roped into something he'd rather not be a part of and would just as soon forget about as soon as possible); bullets are flying, Vince and Shelly (as Vince calls him) are pinned down and they have to make it across an open space to a car, but running straight away isn't an option. `Serpentine, Shell, serpentine!' yells Vince, in what turns out to be an uproarious classic from amongst all of the classic scenes from any of the best comedies ever made, one that puts the laugh meter through the roof.
There may be a touch of `Columbo' in Vince, but overall this is one unique character and Falk plays him for all he's worth. On the surface, Vince is a screwball who is seemingly forever off in some Never-Never Land of his own devising, a guy who is hard to pin down, harder to read and seems to lack the focus necessary to get from point A to point B without the help of some kind of divine intervention. But underneath he's a sly one who never gets rattled and knows exactly what he's doing at every step of the way. So what initially appears to be a broadly sketched character is in reality concisely drawn and steeped in nuance. As portrayed by Peter Falk, Vince is a guy you're not likely to forget any time soon.
It's Alan Arkin, then, who chimes in with a character who is the perfect counterpoint to Vince. In Sheldon Kornpett, what you see is what you get. Arkin delivers a wry portrayal of a man to whom routine and normalcy is the barometer of life, a guy who fixes teeth for a living, provides for his family, has a nice home, a nice car and believes in a future for all that holds promise, with no reason to think otherwise. Until he meets Vince, that is. And he suddenly finds himself cast into a world he would deny to his last breath even existed. Arkin's performance is brilliantly understated, and the humor of the film evolves naturally and directly from the way he plays it SO straight, as well as the way he and Falk play off of one another. With precision timing and especially the performances of Arkin and Falk, `The In-Laws' is a memorable comedy that's going to have you literally on the floor, laughing until it hurts.
This hilarious movie reminds me of one of those 1930s black-and-white
Astaire/Rogers musicals: silly and boring plots involving mixed
identities or whatever, illuminated periodically by stunning songs and
dances. Now take away the boring parts. That's more or less what Larry
Gelbart has written.
Each time I see this movie it seems funnier than the last. The outrageous verbal and visual gags are strung so tightly together that they scarcely leave breathing room between the guffaws. A joke occurs, and you think, "Well, that's it for a while," but no -- another comes on top of it. Libertini as the dictator does his Senor Wences number before dinner. (A general sense of chuckling here.) When you think it's over, Libertini makes his fist say, "Quiero agua fria!" and pours a glass of cold water into the funnel of his hand. The performers perfectly match their parts. Falk's CIA man is lunatic and confidently reassuring by turns.
He buries his face in a napkin and bursts into a torrent of sobs at the prenuptial dinner table before Arkin's simple toast to the couple can even get started. During the dinner he describes the time he spent with natives in the Central American jungle. The gigantic tsetse flies carried off the little children in their beaks. "The natives called them 'Jose Grecos de muertos', the flamenco dancers of death."
Has there ever been a better straight man than Arkin is in this movie? He seems to stumble through the story with his face frozen in disbelief at what is happening to him -- about to be shot by a firing squad he moans, "I've only had four women in my life, and two of them were my wife." And Libertini boasting about how many thousands of dollars he paid for each piece in his art collection, a few paintings of tigers and nudes in day-glo colors on black velvet. (I keep thinking he must have one of Elvis in a safe somewhere.)
On an airplane that is kidnapping Arkin and taking him to a Caribbean Island, flown by a Chinese crew, James Hong sits in front of Arkin and for several minutes cheerfully explains emergency procedures to him, how to blow up the life vest and use the oxygen mask, demonstrating his instructions, the lecture seems to go on and on -- all in Cantonese! This is one of those comedies that makes me smile just thinking about it, the way that the puking fat man does in "Monty Python's Meaning of Life." See it if you can.
Crack comedy writer Andrew Bergman penned this intentionally erratic farce involving a Manhattan dentist with his future in-law, a mysterious CIA operative who took part in the rogue robbery of the U.S. Mint in order to expose an inflation conspiracy begun in Central America. Overtly nutty, high-decibel nonsense takes two potentially funny characters, played by Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, and soon has them dodging bullets and running from the law. Director Arthur Hiller keeps the mania moving briskly enough, even though the plot is superfluous and occasionally offensive--the real humor is in the character portraits. Still, a box-office hit, remade in 2003. *1/2 from ****
I wasn't expecting much when I went to this movie. The plot is silly and outrageous. What makes it, however, are the performances of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. Fall is a person's worst nightmare. Totally sure that no matter how crazy things get, you will always land on your feet. Arkin is the opposite, scared of his own shadow and wanting to avoid any sort of strain or physician exertion. As soon as they meet, everything goes a hundred miles an hour. Arkin ends up in a confrontation with some Latin American soldier who talks to his own hand and is absolutely unbalanced. The result is slapstick and funny. The soldier is so wacko that Arkin is absolutely done in.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Men, naturally, are always trying to one-up each other for reasons only
known to themselves (while the women are arguing about wedding shoes,
they are getting shot at). The two patriarchs of the Kornpett and
Ricardo families come together on the eve of the joining of hands in
marriage, and sense the opportunity to gain an upper hand. Arkin and
Falk are natural showmen, and Hiller plays their performances against a
plot that never seems to force its hand but inexplicably drives them
towards bigger and more ridiculous circumstances. But first, the
in-laws are visiting for dinner. It is not a situation that calls for
flamboyance, so the two men have to settle, quite humorously, for a
battle of who is the more humble. Vincent gives his toast, and before
they can even finish drinking Sheldon is up and giving his own.
Vincent, not wanting to miss a beat, is already sobbing liberally into
his handkerchief. It's a tactical cry, and because men seldom pull this
trick out, we stare rather incredulously.
The In-Laws places a comedic duo within a larger crime story and then lets them fend for themselves. Arkin is a splendid straight man; never has dentistry been less thrilling, and never has such an incompetent every-man lasted so long in a plot that would normally squash him flat in the opening scene. He has an ever growing incredulity about his face, as if he has wandered in from another slower, gentler movie and been asked to play a role that goes against every fibre of his body. It would not so unusual if he was to glance at the camera every now and again with a disbelief etched on his face, as if to ask the audience "Can you believe this?" But he is also a wonderful participant. He feigns indignation at times, but is one of those types that can be easily guilted and coerced if only because of his weak will and good nature. Arkin adds an extra layer of exasperation that has long passed the point of asking for explanation - just see the look on his face as he pays for the paint-job that has left his car looking like a hot-wheels toy, complete with dancing flames to match his brown suit.
And then there is Falk's Vincent, who at times seems almost as loony as the mastermind General Garcia. Falk tiptoes the line between absurdity and seriousness. The easiest example is his early recount of his days in Guatemala, and how the aura of the dinner table suddenly shifts in line with his tone, and he takes on a persona that is akin to something of a war veteran mumbling on about the unspeakable terrors abroad. Falk's sincerity is matched by only his ability to keep a straight face, and add layer after layer of fabrication to his story and monstrous appendage after monstrous appendage to these 'flies'. The scene is so side-splittingly hilarious because we get the sense that Vincent is merely making it up as he goes along, and no one but Sheldon notices. What are the chances that he popped into the local nachos place for a side of guacamole that very afternoon? A strong possibility, if you ask me.
Arkin takes on the common sense reaction, while the rest of the table is transfixed by the power of his tale, and the rest of the film goes along with this very notion. Because Arkin only seems unflappable and is easily pushed into escalating the situation again and again, they find themselves in foreign and precarious scenarios that James Bond would not feel out of place in. Hiller affords the pair an invincibility that enables their partnership's natural humour to shine even in the most unlikely of circumstances; see Vince's last minute absurd appeal to the General to spare their lives, but if not both of them, at least Sheldon's because of his excellent dental care, and how Sheldon explodes at this pathetic appeal. But then watch Arkin's perfect reaction to being accosted by two thugs armed with guns, and see if Vince's pleas are not wrong. He cries "He's my in-law", clutches the black bag of mystery in one hand, and with the other, flings his business card like a boomerang designed to doubly further his business and to enable a quick getaway. Arkin's eyes flash death and anger sometimes, but deep down he enjoys playing this little game.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Straight and narrow New York Dentist Sheldon Kornpett (Alan Arkin)is reaching an exciting time in his life. It the upcoming wedding of his pride and joy daughter Barbara to Tommy Ricardo.Tommy has parents and it's not so much about Tommy but it's the IN-LAWS. Mainly Tommy's eccentric off the wall seat of his pants C.I.A. government agent Father Vince (Peter Falk). Vince after meeting the Kornpett's for the first time at their home goes off to their basement. Plants some evidence in the Kornpett"s basement. The next day Mrs Kornpett discovers the piece of evidence and calls in the government agents. That same day Vince interrupts our Dentist during his busy time,(office filled with patience's) and asks him for a small favor if he could leave his office for a few minutes, break into his office and retrieve something. One thing leads to another and the two are off and running. They drive around a Manhattan as thugs or counterspies chase them. When the two Vince and Shel find out that his home is swarming with agents wanting some answers it's off to Titerboro airport. Just a thought, Vince reminds me of a pushy classmate who makes you do stuff you wouldn't normally attempt. Vince is so matter-of-fact and is never phased by any anything that is thrown his way. Next it's off on a private jet with friendly Asian crew and plenty of magazines. Shel and piloted by Vince fly to some off the map Latin country where their national flag is that of a Naked woman. Our Dentist is overwhelmed and inconsolable and wondering how he ever got mixed up with this so call agent who has a knack for criminal tendencies. Upon their arrival,things go from bad to worse as the two are being shot at by Nationals on the tarmac as Vince suggests that Sheldon serpentine to avoid the onslaught of bullets.They get a room at a downtown fleabag hotel. Vince claims, "You've done enough Sheldon and I really appreciate that so wait here and I'll go off to meet the Dictator by myself." Sheldon has a bad feeling and comes along anyway. Next our two meet the dictator/Presidente of the country and have a nice lunch as Sheldon asked, "The food is exquisite, "Can I get the recipe?" Unfortunately Sheldon and Vince can't share the gourmet fare because after dessert it's off to the firing squad for execution. This all reads bad on paper but it's all laughs from start to finish. Will the father of the bride make the wedding in time. Will the father of the groom think of a way out. No matter what decision is made it's all comedy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mild-mannered dentist Sheldon Kompett (wonderfully played to the
neurotic hilt by Alan Arkin) is getting ready for his daughter's
forthcoming wedding. Complications ensue when the groom's father Vince
Ricardo (a deliciously dry'n'deadpan portrayal by Peter Falk) turns out
to be a loose cannon government agent who gets Sheldon involved in his
latest dangerous secret mission.
Director Arthur Hiller expertly crafts an engaging breezy'n'easy tone, grounds the wacky premise in a credible everyday reality, and keeps the enjoyably zany story zipping along at a snappy pace. Andrew Bergman's witty and inspired script boasts a wealth of priceless gut-busting lines, with the "Serpentine!" dialogue in particular rating as a truly uproarious bit of crazy business. The natural and appealing chemistry between Falk and Arkin gives this picture an extra big boost; these two play off each other beautifully and make for a terrifically delightful comic duo. Moreover, there are sound supporting contributions from Nancy Dussault as Sheldon's sensible wife Carol, Penny Peyser as Sheldon's headstrong daughter Barbara, Richard Libertini as batty dictator General Garcia, Arlene Golonka as Vince's cheery wife Jean, James Hong as chatty airline attendant Bing Wong, Ed Begley Jr. as nerdy CIA head Barry Lutz, and David Paymer as an eager cab driver. Both David M. Walsh's sharp cinematography and the sprightly score by John Morris are up to par. An absolute riot.
I watched this movie when it first came out. My mom and I laughed so
hard throughout the whole thing. Peter Falk and Alan Arkin are superb!
They make the best comedic pair and both played their parts perfectly.
I saw that they remade this with Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas. It was a good and entertaining movie but not nearly as funny as this one. I just finished watching the remake and saw that this original was available on Amazon Prime so I watched it. It is just as funny today as it was when I first saw it.
Serpentine! Serpentine! LOL You must watch this movie. It is pure genius.
This movie is geared towards those who are 18 and older. Peter Falk and Alan Arkin work well together in this action filled comedy. It is funny but not rip roaring funny. Good quirky lines with the action to back them up. It is a good movie in the evening to watch. The plot is halfway decent for a comedy. It does, however, have a fairly predictable ending for this movie. You kind of figured out the ending once you found out about what got stolen. Although Peter Falk played a somewhat comical figure as Columbo, the inept-yet result getting detective; this movie show Peter Falk in a true comedic role. Cook up some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the movie. It will though be forgotten by the time the next night rolls around and you are looking for a movie to watch. Enjoy!
Long before "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" exposed the embarrassing clash of family styles, "The In-Laws" took that premiss and created a story that you just couldn't make up, unless you are the un-phased Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk). Vince is ridiculously inane while dentist Sheldon Kornpett (Alan Arkin) tries to politely question his future in-law, quickly getting caught up in the caper of a lifetime. The dead pan serious claims out of Falk's' mouth and the various reactions from Arkin are comic genius. We enjoy Sheldon's plight and to see him warm up to Vince and his antics is priceless! The plot keeps you guessing, the script is so hysterically quotable, and the two actors are a lot of fun in this adventure together! After 30 viewings I'm still ready to declare that Arkin and Falk are the greatest comic duo ever to appear on the big screen. Arkins' classic, "Oh God please don't let me die on 31st street!" is only topped by Falks' deadpan calmness in the face of adversity.
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